Pop Up Campers and Bears: A Safety Guide

Grizzly bear in campground

Bears are never to be taken lightly, and if you’re out camping, there’s always at least a decent chance you could run into one. Depending on where in the world you choose to park your camper for the weekend, those chances can be higher or lower.

If you’re ever in a situation where you do encounter a bear, whether inside or outside your camper, what should you do? Knowing how to handle the situation can be the difference between life and death.

Which Types of Bears Might You See?

Before I can get into where bears are most populous, I have to discuss the different types of bears. A bear is not just a bear. Based on the species, they may be more aggressive (or less). You should know what each looks like so you can stay far away from them if you see them.

Polar Bears

Although polar bears might look cute behind glass at the zoo, don’t be fooled. These are deadly animals nevertheless. On the smaller end, polar bears might clock in at 700 pounds. Bigger ones can weigh 1,500 pounds, so they can easily overpower full-grown adults.

As their weight might indicate, polar bears are big. They do need cold weather to survive, so unless you’re camping in Alaska or Canada, your chances of seeing them are quite low. That’s good, because polar bears are likely to want to eat us. They have little experience with us people, increasing the chances of them viewing us as their next meal.

Grizzly Bears

Also known as brown bears, this is the bear you’re probably thinking of when we mention bears at campgrounds and national parks. That’s fair since you can find them in all but two states in the US. Grizzly bears react well to playing dead, but you should still try to avoid being attacked by them.

Black Bears

Then there are black bears. These bears sometimes have brownish fur, which means they’re tough to tell apart from grizzlies in some instances. One big difference is they don’t care if you play dead. They will continue to attack.

Although they may look scary, if you tread carefully and get far away, you could avoid trouble. Black bears don’t want to be around us people, and they will actively try to get away. Well, unless you spook them.

That would be bad, especially considering that the average black bear is about 200 pounds. They can go up to 550 pounds. That doesn’t make them as heavy as polar bears, but still, they’re a huge danger.

What Parts of the United States Are Considered Bear Country?

From polar bears and grizzlies to black bears, where are you most likely to see these bears if you go camping?

As you can see from this map courtesy of Geology.com, it varies. Those grayed out parts in the US do not refer to polar bear populations, but rather, no bears at all. As mentioned, polar bears will only be in Alaska in the US. They’re also quite common in Canada, where the weather is cold enough for them.

The northernmost you go, the more likely you are to run into grizzly bears and black bears. Most of these populations are not in the US, so if you go camping outside of the country, be careful. Black and brown bears on their own are very prolific; there are a handful of states without them, but many states are the home of the grizzly.

The following national parks are known for having bears:

  • Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada
  • Kootenay National Park (Canada)
  • Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
  • Jasper National Park of Canada
  • Sequoia National Park (California)
  • Katmai National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
  • Glacier National Park (Alaska)
  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, with parts of the park in Idaho and Montana)

Again, do not be fooled. Just because these parks have known bear populations doesn’t mean other campgrounds or state/national parks across the country couldn’t have bears, too.

How Many People Are Injured and Killed by Bears Each Year?

According to The Alaska Life, each year, bears will kill just two people in the US. Compare that to many other causes of death and the number is quite low. For instance, snakes kill almost six people annually and wasps and hornets nearly 50.

There are even stats on bear attacks and murders specific to Yellowstone National Park. The National Park Service says that one injury will occur from grizzly bears annually at Yellowstone. This has been the case for several decades now. There have been eight deaths total from bears in the history of the park. There’s a higher fatality rate associated with suicide, burns from hot springs, and drowning than bear attacks.

That doesn’t mean you should ever get lax if you see a bear. Don’t assume the next fatality won’t be you. Later in this guide, I will tell you what to do if you come across a bear during your camping adventures. Be sure to follow these precautions to the letter to avoid adding to the above statistics.

Is a Pop Up Camper a Safe Space Against Bears?

If you’re thinking about staying at a campground or state/national park and hear it has bears, that shouldn’t necessarily deter you from visiting. You may want to gain a bit of camping experience in your pop up before venturing out to bear country, but that’s up to you. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable is what you should do.

Almost any campground or park will allow pop up campers, even those that have restrictions on RV and trailer sizes. That’s because many pop ups are small enough to meet length requirements, often with room to spare.

If you have questions about whether there may be bears in the park you’re staying at, then call the campground’s ranger ahead of time and ask! They’ll tell you roughly where the bears are and how many (if there are indeed more than one). You can then make the decision if you’d rather camp at this park or go somewhere else.

What if you do meet a bear on your adventures? Is a pop up camper adequate protection against a bear?

Well, a pop up is certainly safer than a tent. Even if you have a tent-sided camper, there are metal parts, often made of stainless steel or aluminum, that the bear would have to get past. That could deter them or at least slow them down. If you have a hard-sided pop up camper, it’d be even more difficult for a bear to get to you.

It’s not like the bear is going to open your front door, but they could smash out windows. In a rage, they could also easily tip your camper over. It’d be ideal if you could get to a building like a lodge or visitor’s center in a bear attack, but your camper could potentially protect you from a bear.

Now, let’s not get it twisted. If a bear doesn’t see you inside the camper, it’s unlikely they would storm the vehicle for no reason. They’d have to smell food or see movement from the camper to attract their attention. They might spot the camper as they’re walking through the park and get curious, but they should not attack it unless you give them a reason to.

What Should You Do if a Bear Gets Near Your Camper?

Let’s say you are in such a situation where a bear is now circling around your pop up camper. What do you do? You should always keep bear spray and a flashlight in your pop up. Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray is a highly-rated product on Amazon. Another good option is Udap Bear Safety Spray (link to Amazon).

What exactly is bear spray? It’s a type of pepper spray that’s intended to be used on bears. It works very well if used correctly. When you see a bear approaching, you spray them in the eyes with the bear spray and they should be temporarily blinded. You can then get to safety.

Some research cites that using bear spray may work better than trying to shoot at a bear with a gun. This is probably because by shooting the bear, you’re only making it angrier. It’d take a master hunter to kill a grizzly or a black bear with a single shot.

Now, you shouldn’t use the bear spray you have all willy-nilly. It should be for emergencies only. When a bear walks by your pop-up camper, it could be for several reasons. As mentioned, the bear could just be passing by and get curious what this giant hunk of metal is. If you have recently eaten or have food onboard (more on this later), then the bear will be attracted to your camper for a different reason.

The latter is the more dangerous situation. The bear smells food and now wants a bite. You’d just be the dessert. If you have food onboard, then you might have to use your bear spray, since the bear could get aggressive.

What you want to do at first might sound counterintuitive yet is the right move: you don’t want to do anything. That’s right, you just want to stand exactly where you are. If it’s a curious bear who’s wandering by, they’ll likely continue on their way. If it’s a hungry bear, they might still leave you alone.

[box type=”warning”] If they keep approaching, then you want to have your bear spray ready. Don’t use it until the bear shows some aggression. Otherwise, you will anger the bear and now have a much scarier situation to deal with[/box] .

Making a lot of noise and making yourself look as large and opposing as possible are other ways to potentially scare off the bear. If that’s not working, you can always yell at the bear, but never be afraid to use your bear spray. Also, don’t leave the camper if a bear is right outside.

What Should You Do if You’re Injured by a Bear?

If the worst happens and you or a fellow camper are injured by a bear, you’re likely to have suffered bite wounds, fractures, and sizable lacerations. You could have broken bones as well.

Before you act, you have to make sure the bear is far away enough that you can flee. Otherwise, the bear will come back to finish the job. If you have an injured party member, they won’t be able to adequately defend themselves and are at risk of death.

If you’re sure the bear is out of the vicinity, then you need to get this injured party member medical assistance immediately. They should be airlifted to a hospital. Bear injuries can be fatal on their own. Even if the injuries aren’t particularly severe, there’s a high chance of infection from bear injuries. The mouths of bears have a lot of nasty bacteria that could cause rabies, septicemia, and abscesses.

With immediate treatment, it is possible to survive a bear injury. Getting the injured party member medical help in as little time as possible is key. This will prevent infection. It may take months and sometimes even years to overcome the injuries. While it is possible for the injuries to become fatal, this isn’t always the case.

How to Keep Bears Away from Your Pop Up Camper

Just because you know how to handle a bear encounter and even what to do after a bear attack doesn’t mean you ever want to run into one of these animals face-to-face. While you cannot always prevent bears from coming around your camper, there are precautions you should take. These are for the safety of yourself and all your passengers, so don’t skip any of these steps.

Here’s how to keep bears away from your pop up camper:

  • Plan when to dump your blackwater waste from your toilet and/or shower. Try to avoid doing so in the middle of the night, especially at an unfamiliar park or campground. You never know if you might bump into a bear as you go to dump the tanks. This could be incredibly dangerous. Otherwise, dump as often as you’re allowed. Bears won’t be attracted to the scent of your bathroom waste.
  • Make sure you’re using a strainer in your dishwasher. This will get rid of even miniscule food particles. Yes, bears can be attracted by any scent of food, even little ones.
  • When you throw away food trash, always haul it a good distance from your camper.
  • If you must cook, then wash the dishes immediately after using them. Consider washing your dishes outside of your camper in a secure building like a cabin or lodge.
  • Reconsider cooking in your pop up if you’re staying in bear country. That doesn’t mean you should forget eating, but find another way to eat without making your food.
  • Clear every last piece of trash regularly, not just when you’re about to leave. Even the smells of food from wrappers and packaging can be enough to get a bear to come over to your camper.
  • Keep all edibles in a food locker. This should be made of metal. Your other options for stashing food are a pole-hung bag, tree-hung bag, a bear bag, or a bear canister. These items are designed to keep bears away from your food supply.
  • Make sure you stash sunscreen, feminine hygiene products, and toothpaste in the above containers as well. Bears will surprisingly be lured by the scents of these products.
  • Stay inside your camper at dusk and dawn especially. Never go hiking at these times. Bears are more likely to be out.


[box] As a pop up camper owner, there’s a good chance you’ll see a bear at least once during your traveling adventures. Hopefully, that bear will be a great distance away and won’t even spot you. Knowing how to handle a bear and keep one away from your camper is not just a necessity, but a survival tactic. You should always have bear spray in your camper; get enough for each of your passengers. Remember also that nothing attracts a bear to you faster than the smell of food. Good luck![/box]


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